This week I interviewed Amber of The Playful Learner. I've admired Amber's approach to setting up her home and her creative activities that she posts on Instagram. The thing that stands out for me is how thoughtful and authentic she seems. I love that she takes what works best for her and her family, including a minimalist approach to toys and activities, and ignores what doesn't work. Her suggestions for a child-friendly home for the whole family are realistic and attainable. I really hope you enjoy this play-based, child-led (with a sprinkle of Montessori inspiration) home tour and interview!
Tell me about yourself...
Hello! I’m Amber! I’m a former preschool teacher, current part-time elementary art teacher currently staying home with my little guys. I blog at ThePlayfulLearner.com / @ThePlayfulLearner on IG.
How old are your children?
Solomon is 3 and Apollo is 1
What is your experience with Montessori and has the philosophy influenced your parenting at all?
I spent about 8 of my 10 years as a preschool teacher in Montessori classrooms! Although I am not Montessori trained, and I’m not 100% on the Montessori bandwagon, I think Maria Montessori was a genius and I completely respect her methods. I have taken quite a bit of the Montessori method into how I am as a teacher and mom.
How have you created a Prepared Environment in your home?
Not completely, but in some areas I have. Our toy shelves are definitely set up more like a Montessori classroom than some homes, and we have floor beds for our boys (we never had cribs). I try to make most of the home safe and accessible to them in a way that I believe to be Montessorian.
shared bedroom with floor beds
What are your top 3 activities to do with your children or to watch your children do?
We love baking together. My older son loves anything reading or trucks, and my younger son loves anything musical. My favorite is when they play together! My 1 year old is starting to talk a little more, so my 3 year old is more interested in letting him in on play.
How do you deal with toy/activity/material storage and rotation?
We have a couple shelves that have their current selection of toys, set up in an accessible way. I switch it up once or twice a month depending on their interests. I find that if it’s starting to get messier, it probably
means that they’re bored and need a refresher. The toys not out are in the dresser that our TV sits on, and the arts and sensory materials are in a cupboard in the laundry room (Just in case one of the little ones figures out how to open that dresser, I don’t want glitter and moon sand scattered everywhere!)
piano in playroom
What is your favourite part of your child’s play/work space?
A few months ago we switched the location of our play area (traded spaces with the dining room) and I’m so happy with the change! My favorite part is that now there are 2 windows in their play area. That natural light makes a world of difference, I think. I also love that our piano is in their playroom. My husband plays and it's nice to have him playing piano while they play.
Talk a little bit about your homeschooling philosophy...how do you decide what to teach? Have you run into any roadblocks?
Since my guys are still just 1 and 3, I don’t follow any specific curriculum or homeschool plan. I do plan out themes, and that helps guide what I reserve for us at the library and sometimes some projects. For the most part, though, I follow their lead. I may plan to spend a week studying insects, but then my boys are just interested in trucks and Legos all week. From my experience as a preschool teacher, I know it’s not necessary or even helpful to start really “teaching” them anything beyond social and emotional skills yet.
the boy's bathroom (drawers are accessible to them for self-care)
How do you help foster independence in your children?
My boys are really good at playing independently, and I believe that’s because of the way I’ve set up their play area. I make sure it’s relevant, age-appropriate and interesting to them. I make sure the materials are easy to grab and put away. When I see them struggling or getting bored, then I know it’s time to switch something up. Outside of their play, I encourage independence by trusting them, and practicing patience. My 3 year old gets dressed on his own. Sometimes things end up backwards, and it certainly takes longer than if I just put it on him, but he feels such a sense of pride getting himself dressed that
I would hate to take that from him.
shared bedroom with floor beds
You have a playroom ebook called “The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Successful Playroom”. What inspired you to write it? What are your top tips for parents wanting to improve their child’s play space?
Early last year I surveyed my readers on their biggest struggles around their child’s play, and I realized that almost all of their problems could be helped with having a successful play environment. I started to write a blog post about it, and quickly realized it was going to be way bigger than one post and decided to write a book. In the early childhood sphere the environment is considered the “third teacher” after the parent and the teacher, and I wanted to bring that information out of the classroom and into people’s playrooms.
My top tip for someone who is struggling with their play space is to think like a minimalist! Each material or toy to it’s own tray or basket, not crowded on the shelves, and certainly not stacked. Little ones can get overwhelmed with too many toys and it quickly becomes a big mess--and they’re still bored. Having fewer items, arranged in an open way where they can see everything is way more inviting for them to be focused.
ball pit in the living room
Anything else you’d like to add?
Our home is 1000 square feet, which is small compared to the average family home. But since we once lived in 350 square feet (when my older son was a baby), it’s plenty of space for us! Living in such a “small” place has forced us to be minimalists and very intentional about what toys stay out (or are even kept), and how we organize things.
To learn more about Amber and follow her journey, check out her website (www.theplayfullearner.com) and Instagram account (@theplayfullearner). Her ebooks are available here.